A woman writes a message of support and hope for the
passengers of the missing flight on a banner at Kuala
Lumpur International Airport. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Malaysia's military has traced what could have been the
jetliner missing since the weekend to an area south of the Thai
holiday island of Phuket, hundreds of miles from its last known
position, the country's air force chief says.
After a series of at times conflicting statements, the latest
revelation underlined that authorities remain uncertain even
where to look for the plane, and no closer to explaining what
happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 or the 239 people
The flight disappeared from civilian radar screens shortly
before 1:30am on Saturday (local time), less than an hour
after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, as it flew northeast
across the mouth of the Gulf of Thailand bound for Beijing.
What happened next is one of the most baffling mysteries in
modern aviation history.
Malaysian air force chief Rodzali Daud told a news conference
that an aircraft was plotted on military radar at 2:15 a.m.,
200 miles (320 km) northwest of Penang Island off Malaysia's
It was not confirmed that the unidentified plane was Flight
MH370, but Malaysia was sharing the data with international
civilian and military authorities, Rodzali said.
"We are corroborating this," he added. "We are still working
with the experts, it's an unidentified plot."
According to the data from Rodzali, if it was the missing
plane it would have flown for 45 minutes and lost only about
5,000 feet (1,500 metres) in altitude.
There was no word on which direction it was headed and still
no clue what happened aboard, prolonging the agonising wait
for news for hundreds of relatives of those on board.
A position 200 miles northwest of Penang, in the northern
part of the Strait of Malacca, would put the plane roughly
south of Phuket and east of the tip of Indonesia's Aceh
province and India's Nicobar island chain.
Indonesia and Thailand have said their militaries detected no
sign of any unusual aircraft in their airspace.
The position is hundreds of miles west of the point where the
Boeing 777-200ER dropped off air traffic control screens.
Malaysia has asked India for help in tracing the aircraft and
New Delhi's coastguard planes have joined the search.
Authorities however are continuing to search around both
locations - at the last known position of the plane over the
Gulf of Thailand and around the radar plotting site where the
Malacca Strait meets the Andaman Sea.
In total, the search is over 27,000 square nautical miles
(93,000 sq km), an area the size of Hungary or Indiana.
Until now, there has been no confirmed sighting of the plane
or any debris.
A dozen countries are helping Malaysia in the search, with 42
ships and 39 aircraft involved, Transport Minister
Hishammuddin Hussein said.
"My heart reaches out to the families of the passengers and
crew," he said. "And I give you my assurance we will not
reduce the tempo and that we will not spare any effort to
find the missing plane."
Malaysia has been criticised for giving conflicting and
confusing information on the last known location of aircraft.
Earlier on Wednesday, air force chief Rodzali had denied
saying military radar had tracked MH370 flying over the
Strait of Malacca.
Vietnam briefly scaled down search operations in waters off
its southern coast, saying it was receiving scanty and
confusing information from Malaysia over where the aircraft
may have headed after it lost contact with air traffic
Hanoi later said the search - now in its fifth day - was back
on in full force and was even extending on to land. China
also said its air force would sweep areas in the sea,
clarifying however that no searches over land were planned.
"As long as the plane is not found, we would continue doing
our mission," Vo Van Tuan, spokesman for Vietnam Search and
Rescue Committee, told reporters in Hanoi.
"We should always keep up hope, there can be miracles, humans
can survive for a long time in difficult conditions. We must
not give up hope that the missing people are still alive."
NOTHING RULED OUT
In the absence of any concrete evidence to explain the
plane's disappearance, authorities have not ruled out
anything. Police have said they were investigating whether
any passengers or crew on the plane had personal or
psychological problems that might shed light on the mystery,
along with the possibility of a hijacking, sabotage or
The airline said it was taking seriously a report by a South
African woman who said the co-pilot of the missing plane had
invited her and a female companion to sit in the cockpit
during a flight two years ago, in an apparent breach of
"Malaysia Airlines has become aware of the allegations being
made against First Officer Fariq Ab Hamid which we take very
seriously. We are shocked by these allegations. We have not
been able to confirm the validity of the pictures and videos
of the alleged incident," the airline said in a statement.
The woman, Jonti Roos, told Reuters that she and her friend
were invited to fly in the cockpit by Fariq and the pilot
between Phuket and Kuala Lumpur in December 2011.
"I thought that they were highly skilled and highly competent
and since they were doing it that it was allowed," Roos said.
"I want to make it clear, at no point did I feel we were in
danger or that they were acting irresponsibly."
Hugh Dunleavy, the commercial director of Malaysia Airlines,
told Reuters there was no reason to blame the crew.
"We have no reason to believe that there was anything, any
actions, internally by the crew that caused the disappearance
of this aircraft," he said.
The Boeing 777 has one of the best safety records of any
commercial aircraft in service. Its only previous fatal crash
came on July 6 last year when Asiana Airlines Flight 214
struck a seawall on landing in San Francisco, killing three
U.S. planemaker Boeing has declined to comment beyond a brief
statement saying it was monitoring the situation.